Review: Princess Ida

Natasha D'Souza 22 November 2012

Princess Ida

Fitzwilliam College Theatre, 8pm, until Fri 23 Nov

Almost all seats had been filled as I entered the Fitzwilliam College Theatre for the opening of Princess Ida. Not only curious students and eager friends and family but also die-hard Gilbert and Sullivan fans seemed to be waiting to see just how the pair’s Princess would be done. I can tell you for certain that they were not left unimpressed. The calibre of voices, acting, solid casting and chemistry between characters left me hoping that another performance from this company would be around next term.

Based on Tennyson’s The Princess (now you know it, watch out for even more punny lines), Princess Ida is a parody on women’s education, male chauvinism and the cross(-dressing) between the two. Ida, betrothed at the tender age of one to the Prince Hilarion and to be married on her 21st birthday, leaves her husband-to-be in dismay as she founds other paths in life: a woman’s university, where women are taught, as Darwin has recently shown, ‘Man, sprung from Ape, is Ape at heart!’

The already excellent script was brilliantly adapted with references to Cambridge and its own beloved women’s colleges. The indications to the real stage with the characters’ awareness of the production they were in were perhaps gratuitously distracting from the comedy but I rather enjoyed these moments. At the beginning, I was left a little peeved by the chuckling crowd despite anything having really begun on stage – a welcome from knowing audiences perhaps. Maybe it was because the introductory miming was a little overdone – for the benefit of the poor-of-sight at the back, one hopes. This, however, was made up for in the brilliant underwater rescue scene and from start to end, once the music began to be played, the cast broke into a brilliant performance. Helen Oxenham as the Princess Ida led in her perfect renditions and acting; Prince Hilarion and his bumbling companions did an excellent job of infiltrating those womanly walls and were the perfect heroes in their song and dance; other characters, King Hildebrand (Adrian Ball) and his spot-on stern, majestic appearance and Lady Blanche (Katie Walton) were played out even when not under the spotlight – not always the case of certain members of the military ensemble who were sometimes overly clumsy – something that couldn’t be accounted for in the spirit of the farce. I think everyone would join in with my praise of Simon Perfect in the role of King Gama – the most memorable performance with his startling facial expressions and varying tones. The strength of the second act was also due to the staging and set: extremely well done compared to the first where all but a chair and an eternally-circulating plate of vols-au-vent seemed to feature. And apart from what seemed to be a random illumination of the corner of the stage in the third act, the lighting was also done very well, the glowering red cast perfectly onto the conniving women. Full use was made of the stage and the upper galleries with even the band joining in with performance. The music was well-directed bar one instance of a delayed reaction. A very talented cast, some incredible voices and a performance not to be missed.

Natasha D’Souza